Should I Study Hanja?

WHAT IS HANJA

Before Korea had a writing system, they used Chinese characters. This is why it is usually scientific/educational type words that have a native Korean AND a Chinese based word. The Chinese based word is used in science/school/more formal type contexts while the native Korean word is most often used in a typical conversation (its like “human” vs “homo sapien”)


한자
This refers to the written characters.

한자어
This refers to speaking. if you ask “A vs B” and get told “A is 한자어” they mean that A is based off of chinese. aka “sino korean word”

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SHOULD I LEARN IT?

It is not necessary, though it can be helpful!

It can be helpful because you can get a better understanding of chinese based words. I think it can help to at least understand how hanja is broken down (which we will cover in a minute)

Koreans study in school and end up not remembering much since they usually write Chinese based words purely in hangul anyways. But they do remember some to an extent. You may see it on store signs or handwritten messages, but through a normal texting convo or reading a book, you most likely aren’t going to encounter it.

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THE BREAKDOWN

If you look up a word on naver and it is chinese based, there will be hanja beside it. Hanja are broken down into meaning and pronunciation. Some hanja look different, but have the same pronunciation with  different meanings  Some hanja look and sound the same, but can have multiple meanings

characters are defined as “meaning pronunciation”. If the “meaning” is a verb, it’s often in future tense (not always)

부수 -> radical
획수-> number of strokes


A radical is like the foundation of the character. Hanja can be looked up in the dictionary based on radical, or strokes. Next to the radical, in parenthesis, it will be defined with its number of strokes.

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EXAMPLES

IF YOU LOOK UP 소녀 , YOU WILL NOTICE IT HAS CHINESE BESIDE IT.

SO YOU CAN LOOK UP THESE PARTS INDIVIDUALLY TO GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING.
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少 (소)

To the side it says 적을 소, 젊을 소
This means it has a couple meanings, but read the same way. the first meaning is 적을 (from 적다) this means “few”. the second is 젊을 (from 젊다) meaning “young age”

소녀 (少女) young girl
-> 女 is for female
 소식 (少食) snack/small meal. "to eat a little"
-> 食 is for eating/meal


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火花 (화화)
different hanja, same sound!

화 (火) means fire (and is the hanja used for tuesday)
화 (花) means flower/flower shaped
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太陽 (태양)
태 (太) means “big”

양 (陽) means “sunlight” / “energy beating down from sun”

sun beating down energy



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CONCLUSION

If you know hanja, you can sometimes guess a word based on its parts. Some hanja sound the same (like with 화 and 화! so you won’t always be able to guess meaning based off hangul alone, but you can if you see the hanja for that word. If you see a word with hanja, looking at the possible definitions for the hanja used can help you get a better/more clear understanding of that word^^

HOW TO LEARN

I mostly just learn like I showed you in the breakdown section (by googling hanja I’m interested in). I also have this book that I really love! They have an ebook version (not available in all countries) that is half the price of the physical book. They start with a dialogue using Korean and Hanja so you can not only pick some up from context, but use it as a review to see what you remembered. They also have practice exercises and a “Find more Hanja” section where they combine Hanja you just learned as well as Hanja you learned from previous chapters so you can learn even more words. In the back of the book you can find stroke order and English translation for each chapter (no answer key, but you can find the answers by reviewing the chapter). The explanations are in English, but the instructions for the practice exercises are in Korean. So this book is also good for reviewing and enhancing your korean while also learning Hanja!

Hope this was helpful!

-Shelbi

Published by Satyanghae Korean (Hannah & Shelbi)

We are just 3 students who wish to share the love and joy of learning Korean through lesson posts and translations! We are doing this for fun, based on our experience and questions we ask native speakers. We are not fluent! Just passionate  ~ Hannah, Shelbi, and Jordan

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